The Royal Flush!

Ok. Not something everyone needs to know about, but still kind of fun!

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New Facebook Page and Free T-Shirt Contest

Announcing our new “Miles and Smiles” Facebook page! To celebrate, we’re having A CONTEST! Everyone who visits the page between now and Nov. 30 and comments on the contest post will be entered to win a FREE “Miles and Smiles” T-Shirt (size large). Come on over and say “Hi”!

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Deep in the Heart of Texas

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS

We finally caught up with some warmer weather last January as we headed into Texas, and we had a blast exploring the San Antonio and Houston areas. This video has some of the highlights as well as the embarrassing moment when we realized we’d traveled down mile after mile of twisting country roads to arrive at the wrong RV park! Want to learn more? Keep reading below.

Finding our Campground

Lake Medina RV Resort. Medina Lake RV Campground. Can you blame us for getting them mixed up? Or, more specifically, can you blame Jeff for navigating us to the wrong campground? Lake Medina RV Resort is at the bottom of a long, twisting road through the Texas hill country, and as we pulled into the parking area we were suitably impressed about where we’d be staying for the next couple of weeks. But, of course, we weren’t. The lady in the front office was very polite – it was clear that we were not the first RVers to make this mistake – and even agreed to hold some packages that we (Jeff) had ordered in anticipation of our visit. So back up the steep, winding Texas hills we went, to finally arrive at the Thousand Trails Medina Lake RV Campground.

Medina Lake RV Campground

Thousand Trails is a membership nationwide network of RV parks. It gets pretty complicated, but the bottom line is that paid members can stay in TT parks for free. We’ll do an entire blog post and video about Thousand Trails sometime soon.

The Medina Lake RV Campground is famous for the herd of deer that call it home. What beautiful animals! The camp store sells bags of dried corn so that you can feed them, and they’ll come quite close when they see your bag! Sometimes they’re eat right out of campers’ hands, but we didn’t find any that wanted our corn that badly.

A proud resident of Medina Lake

Tucker is in his element!

 

Unfortunately, the water level in the lake was extremely low due to drought conditions so we didn’t have much opportunity to enjoy the lake, although Tucker, our Golden Retriever, was eager to play a game of fetch in the water. It’s a large and beautiful campground and was mostly empty in early February. It served as a good home base for our central Texas adventures. And a good place to watch the Philadelphia Eagles win the Superbowl!

 

Cowboy Church

On Sunday we headed out to the Western Heritage Cowboy Church for a home-cooked breakfast and some genuine cowboy worship. Despite the fact that we were obviously not cowfolk, we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed some good preachin’ and enthusiastic singin’. If you’re in the area, you should consider stopping in!

San Antonio

The Alamo

One beautiful day we took about an hour’s drive into the fascinating city of San Antonio. After a delicious Tex-Mex lunch a bit off the beaten tourist path, we walked to the Alamo. This notorious fortress was the site of a crushing defeat for the Europeans, and of course “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry in the struggle that eventually lead to the establishment of Texas as a republic.

 

The area we think of as Texas used to be part of Mexico. It was largely undeveloped and uninhabited in the early 1800s – so much so that Mexico actively encouraged North Americans to migrate to the area so that it could be developed economically. The plan backfired when too many Americans started moving into the area and decided to declare an independent Republic of Texas. Think about it. The problem was too many North Americans moving into Mexico! Mexico tried to maintain sovereignty over its territory, but ultimately lost the war.

The famous “Homeless Jesus” statue in San Antonio

Enjoying the River Walk

River Walk

After touring this bit of history, we were both ready for a nice cappuccino or latte, so we headed to the San Antonio River Walk, a charming shopping and dining area along the San Antonio River, but we couldn’t find a single coffee shop! We eventually headed back to the car, knowing that our pets were eagerly awaiting our arrival back at the campground. Along the way, lo and behold, we found a great coffee shop! A nice end to a fun day of exploration.

All we need is a piece of driveway and our home is where we park it.

Houston

In the Houston area we had our first experience “driveway surfing” or “moochdocking.” In other words, we parked our RV in the driveway of our good friends Jim and Kathy Hibbard. We became next-door neighbors for several days, which made hanging out with them a lot easier than driving back and forth from a campground. And our dogs had a blast running free in their large, fenced-in property.

Hurricane Harvey Relief

 

One highlight of the visit was the day that Kathy joined the Hibbards and some folks at Pathway Church in their ongoing outreach to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Another highlight was enjoying a great BBQ dinner with Jeff’s high school buddy, Neal Goren.

Our friends the Hibbards

Jeff with his high school classmate Neal Goren. The one in the middle just butted in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our original plan was to keep heading west or south, but some pressing needs at home made this the turn-around point in our journey. We hope to get back in 2019 and continue our explorations of this fascinating state!

 

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Icicles in Alabama, Natchez, and Jerry Lee Lewis

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One of My Biggest Fears: Sick pets far from home!

Okay. There are a lot of things to be “afraid of” when on the road. Accidents. Breakdowns. Break-ins. Bears. Bugs. Robberies. Illness. Stinkbugs.

But one of my biggest fears before heading out on our first long RV trip last December was that one of our pets would get sick. What would we do? How would we find a vet? How would a pet’s illness affect our daily RV life and travel plans?

Take these questions and fears and multiply by four. Yes, we have three dogs and a cat. The dogs are Tucker, a handsome 95-pound Golden Retriever; Oliver, a friendly 9-pound Chihuahua; and Mitzi, an adorable and smart 16-pound mixed breed (Lhasa Apso and Silky Terrier). And then we have Cali, a beautiful, sweet 12-pound calico cat. The seniors are Cali (18) and Mitzi (11); Tucker is the baby (4), and Oliver holds his own middle-age ranking (7).

The Three Amigos

Cali doing what cats do best!

Just a few weeks into our trip, Oliver developed diarrhea. Bad diarrhea. Every 2-3 hours around the clock he needed to go out. He sleeps in the bed with us, and I was on the alert all night. When he would start trembling, I knew it was time. In the dark, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain! We were in Jacksonville, and it poured for days. When the trembling started, I would put on my sweatshirt, raincoat, and rain boots; put a little coat on Oliver; grab my umbrella; and out we’d go. Fortunately, he didn’t take long to find a spot, relieve himself, and want to go back inside. Hang up wet attire, dry off, crawl back into bed, doze for 2 hours, repeat.

 

Not feeling so well

A few days later, Tucker started up with the same problem. He’s a big boy, but I’m glad to say that he always managed to do his business outside and never in the middle of the night.

When their problems didn’t clear up after several days on a bland diet, it was time to find a vet. I knew the dogs needed metronidazole, the common treatment for diarrhea. I called my vet’s office back home, but the inexperienced vet on duty said she didn’t think she could call in a prescription from out of state. She was wrong, but by the time she called me back we’d already taken the dogs to a local vet, who prescribed metronidazole and of course had to do physical exams and charge us for office visits. Vet #1.

Tucker getting acupuncture

The best resources for finding reputable veterinarians while traveling, as far as I know, are Google and Yelp. You can find reviews of veterinary clinics by googling “veterinarians near me” or similar searches. Yelp will also show reviews when you request veterinarians near your current location. (I checked out a few pet apps but none that I found were at all helpful.) You will almost always find naysayers, so you’ll have to look for overall trends. How many stars in the ratings? What are the reasons for each reviewer’s rating? Which vets in a clinic get the highest praise? Of course, even the best of vets can get a negative review once in a while. If it’s an emergency, or you’ll be in town for only a night or two, you’ll have to take your chances on wherever you can be seen. We saw several vets during our travels, and they were all kind as well as good. Consider writing a review of your local vet or any you use while traveling so as to help other pet owners find a good vet or avoid a bad one.

Anyway, back to the saga. After a course of metronidazole, Oliver was doing better, but for Tucker the diarrhea persisted. Another prescription of metro from another vet finally turned him around, though it took him a while to get his hearty appetite back. Vet #2.

Mitzi getting laser therapy

While all this was going on with Tucker and Oliver, Mitzi was becoming lethargic and uninterested in her food. She didn’t have diarrhea, but she wasn’t well either. I took her to two vets in Fort Lauderdale for tests, follow up, acupuncture, and more tests. She took pain medication, anti-nausea medicine, metronidazole, and appetite stimulant. I hand-fed her whatever I could get her to eat. Thank God I could hide her meds in peanut butter, which she would willingly lick off my finger. Vets #3 and #4.

And Cali? She had one day of semi-diarrhea, but then stabilized. But we began to grapple with the fact that she hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies in a good number of years. Since she is a totally indoor, older cat, our vet had said it was unnecessary. So far, no campground had asked for proof of vaccination for any of our pets. But we were planning to camp at the Fort Wilderness campground in Disney World with our three young-adult kids. Not knowing if Disney is strict regarding pets’ vaccinations, and not wanting to throw a monkey wrench into our plans, we ended up taking Cali to a vet in Jacksonville for a rabies vaccine. Vet #5.

As it turns out, Disney World never asked for vaccination records for any of our pets! Neither did anyone else. We found most campgrounds to be very pet friendly, with some of them offering fenced-in “dog parks” of various sizes. One problem we encountered in several campgrounds was that, despite clear signs and rules, some folks let their dogs run off-leash. When someone would try to reassure us that their dog was friendly, I’d reply, mostly in my head, What if mine aren’t? Nothing bad has happened with off-leash dogs, but it certainly could.

Tucker and Oliver both eventually recovered from their diarrhea and did fine for the remainder of our trip. But it was a long and worrisome first month. We couldn’t identify the cause: a virus, the stress of traveling (but they are good, calm travelers), perhaps the changes in water? We’ll never know.

I just don’t feel well mom

Mitzi is another story. She remained lethargic, her appetite was nonexistent, and she was obviously stiff and sore. A Lyme test came back negative. One morning I woke up to her panting heavily. She was thin and weak by then, and we really thought she was dying. It was pretty awful. With lots of TLC and hand feeding, she gradually improved. She still wasn’t eating much other than chicken jerky treats, but at least the sparkle was back in her eyes and she was able to go on short walks with us.

In our first month on the road, one of my biggest fears had come true! It was hard for me to enjoy our travels when I was always on the alert for how the dogs were feeling and what meds they needed when. It was stressful, as it would have been at home. The stress was increased by having to find and choose well-qualified and highly rated veterinarians on the road. In that department, I think we did well. One vet offered to help us locate a vet who did acupuncture in our next location, and another gave us her personal cellphone number to use if we had any concerns while her office was closed over the Christmas holiday.

I’m glad to report that all our pets are doing well, even Mitzi. She declined again after we arrived home, and our vet suspected lymphoma, but test results proved otherwise. We still don’t have a clear diagnosis, but we are guessing that for some unknown reason her body became terribly inflamed from two previous bouts of Lyme disease. Our local vet sent us to a specialist who put her on prednisone, and she’s now doing great. She appears happy and healthy, barks for her food, eats well, and can even do some of her tricks again. We know there are major risks with prednisone, but we’ve got her down to a very low dose, and we think it’s her best option, at least for now. Vet #6 and #7.

I survived one of my biggest fears, and all the pets survived, too. I don’t want to go through anything like that again, but it might happen. At least I know that we can probably find good vets—and our home vets are only a phone call away.

If you have any additional tips or experiences about dealing with a pet’s illness or injury while on the road, please leave them in a comment below. We’ll read and respond to each one.

 

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A Quick Trip through Disney World

It was a cold day in early January when we pulled into the Fort Wilderness Campground at Walt Disney World. But we didn’t let the cold – or the rain – dampen our spirits! Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of our stay.

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Orange Picking at Ridge Island Groves

It was cold – in the mid-40s – as we pulled off of the main highway to experience another slice of the “real Florida.” If you’ve never tasted oranges straight off of the tree, or savored orange juice fresh-squeezed on the farm where it was grown, this is a stop that you’ve got to visit if you ever get a chance. And did I mention homemade orange ice cream?

That’s just part of what you’ll find on the latest episode of Miles and Smiles!

As always, we eagerly look forward to your comments and questions. Next up: Tips on a Great Disney Experience.

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Lions, and tigers, and… Krispy Kreme donuts? Oh my!

This week’s short video highlights some of our favorite stops while traveling around southern Florida. Whether it’s drinking a fresh, frozen pineapple drink in Fort Lauderdale, marveling at the lions, tigers, and other big cats at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, discovering a bridge to be defended “at all costs” from the Second Seminole Indian War, or savoring a delicious donut, hot out of the fryer, you’re invited to join us as we cover the miles with smiles!

 

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Finding the Real Florida

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

If you think of “Disney” when you think “Florida,” then you’re missing the REAL Florida. We hope you enjoy our latest video, which includes alligators, Homeland Security, a quick overview of different kinds of RV parks, cute dogs, a cat, and a swamp-buggy ride with our kids.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty and diversity of Kissimmee Prairie in an eight-minute video, so here are a few additional things we think you might want to know.

From the park website https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Kissimmee-Prairie

  • This 54,000 acre preserve protects the largest remaining stretch of Florida dry prairie, home to an array of endangered plants and animals. While driving the five-mile-long road into the preserve, visitors can enjoy sweeping vistas of grasslands reminiscent of the Great Plains of the Midwest.
  • The preserve offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as the Crested Caracara and Burrowing Owl.
  • More than 100 miles of dirt roads allow hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians to explore prairies, wetlands, and shady hammocks.* November through March, ranger-led prairie buggy tours allow visitors to see remote areas of the preserve.
  • Kissimmee Prairie’s remoteness makes it one of Florida’s premier locations for stargazing.
  • For overnight stays, the Preserve has two full-facility campground loops: family and an equestrian campground with paddocks. Proof of current negative Coggins test is required for all horses.

While we were in the park we were able to take advantage of the dark skies to watch part of the Geminid Meteor Shower. Many of our fellow campers had elaborate telescope setups for even better stargazing. We and our kids were awed by how dark the night can be and how brightly the multitude of stars can shine without “light pollution.” Spectacular!

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”  Psalm 8:3-4

You should also know that the park is named for the Kissimmee River that runs through it, and is not near the city of Kissimmee, which is about 90 miles to the north (close to a two-hour drive). Yep, we learned that the hard way.

You should also know that it is remote. REMOTE. About a 15-minute drive from the campground you’ll find one tiny store that sells essentials such as milk and eggs, soft drinks, and dusty “junk” that the widely scattered locals might need, such as screws, nuts, and bolts, and lots of stuff that nobody seems to have needed for a very long time. There is a small Mexican restaurant attached but it was closed for renovations. In other words, bring with you everything you’ll need for the length of your stay. The nearest Walmart is an hour away. The nearest hotel is 45 minutes away, and a second is over an hour. REMOTE.

Kissimmee Prairie Reserve State Park offers a unique camping experience! We highly recommend a visit the next time you are in Florida.

*Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them.

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ARE YOU OVERWEIGHT?

When driving a car, most of us rarely give much thought to how much it weighs. But when driving a full-size RV, knowing how much you weigh can literally mean the difference between life and death!

FYI: This is a somewhat technical post on RV weight and safety. If you’re an RVer, this is information you really need to know. If you just want to read about our travel destinations and adventures, we’ll have a new post up for you soon. Either way, we hope you’ll enjoy this short video!

Every RV comes with a plaque that lists the maximum safe weight for the vehicle when fully loaded. In our case, the maximum is 22,000 pounds, or 11 tons! That’s a lot of weight. It also lists the maximum weight on each axle, and the maximum if you are towing another vehicle.

GVWR – Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, the maximum weight of your vehicle, fully loaded CCC – Cargo Carrying Capacity GCWR – Gross Combined Weight Rating, the maximum total weight of your fully loaded vehicle plus anything that you are towing.

Driving overweight can cause a list of catastrophic problems with your vehicle:

  • The suspension/shock absorbers can fail, causing you to (best case) bottom out when hitting bumps in the road, or even (worst case) lose a wheel while driving at highway speeds.
  • The brakes can fail by becoming overheated while trying to stop more weight than they can handle.
  • The transmission can fail.
  • The tires can fail, causing a blowout at highway speeds.

And if your own vehicle doesn’t fail, what about that bridge you’re crossing with a six-ton weight limit?

So, the first thing any RV owner should know is how much your unit weighs with everything you usually carry in it – because everything counts! For instance, our motorhome has a 100-gallon fresh-water tank. Water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon, so when we have a full tank, we are carrying an extra 834 pounds in water alone! Gasoline is 6.3 pounds per gallon, so if our 75-gallon tank is full, that’s another 472.5 pounds. Now, add three dogs and a cat, two people, all of our clothing, food, tools, pots and pans, camping equipment, games, books, computers and electronics, bicycles and heavy-duty rack, and you can see how it all adds up very quickly.

That’s why we made a detour during our trip to have our RV weighed at the Escapees “SmartWeigh” station at the Sumter Oaks RV park in Bushnell, Florida. The advantage of SmartWeigh over the scales in most truck stops is that it weighs every wheel, not just every axle, which can help you redistribute the weight in your vehicle as evenly as possible.

GOOD NEWS! We passed. And we learned something new about our tires!

Fully loaded, our rig weighed 21,200 pounds, leaving us 800 pounds to spare even when our three grown kids are traveling with us!

Our front axle balanced out perfectly with 3,200 pounds on each wheel. The rear axle was close with 7,200 pounds on the right and 7,600 pounds on the left.

So, what does this have to do with tires?

I learned to inflate my car’s tires to the maximum pressure listed on the tire itself. But this is absolutely wrong! Each of the tires should be inflated according to the weight that its axle is supporting.

On a car, the weight is low enough that you can usually just inflate the tires to the pressure listed on the sticker on your door (or in some cases, inside the gas door). On a heaver vehicle like a motorhome you should look to the chart that most tire manufactures post on their website, based on the weight each axle is carrying. This inflation based on weight will assure that your tires have just the right amount of tread in contact with the road for maximum life, drivability, and stopping power. In our case, this means that our four rear tires should each be inflated to 80 pounds when cold. The front tires need 95 pounds.

Always fill your tires when cold! The heat of driving down the road causes the air to expand and can increase the internal pressure by as much as 15 pounds. The tire manufacturers take this into account on their recommend inflation charts.

Comments? Questions? Please give your feedback in the comments below!

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